Every year I buy into the hype. The ball drops, and some deep-seated portion of my brain immediately spins into goals/disciplines/new routines/vision board kind of territory.
Some years, as the new year dawns, the first few weeks of the year go swimmingly.
And some years, not so much.
Here’s the thing…as far as I can tell, life doesn’t seem to adhere much to the calendars we create and the goal sheets we curate.
Maybe your new year has gotten off to a great start. You’re on day 4 of getting up early, eating clean, and crushing that workout.
Or maybe you’re finding yourself, like a lot of other people this new year, grappling with Omicron and hunting down PCR tests and trying to figure out if your kids are supposed to head back to school or not. Maybe you were supposed to head home after your holiday trip, and your travel plans have gotten waylaid. Perhaps you’ve had some other issues come up that have sidelined your best laid new ‘22 plans.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ve gotten a little jaded over the last couple of years, and all the upheaval and uncertainty, and you’re finding it hard to launch into this new year with the kind of enthusiasm you’ve felt in the past at the click to a fresh page.
I get you.
We’ve had several of the same issues come up over here.
Here’s some good news. Author and publisher Lara Casey says, “There is nothing magical about January 1.” And what she means by that is that we can start fresh any time we choose. Our circumstances don’t have to agree. It doesn’t have to be by some date on the calendar. Every day is a fresh opportunity to build the habits and engage the disciplines and begin again, over and over. After all, it’s that willingness to start and start and start that builds the consistency we need to make lasting change.
So if your year has started off swimmingly, or if you find yourself barely staying above water just meer days at the start of January, what are some things you can be doing that can set the course for your year? It doesn’t have to do with the perfect planner or the brilliantly designed goal sheet. It has to do with a state of heart. Consider making the following steps as you walk this day and the next and the next into 2022:
- Accept upfront that regardless of how your year has started, things not always going according to plan are part of the deal. While physical flexibility is good for your body, mental flexibility is good for your soul and mental health. Prospect Health defines mental and cognitive flexibility as “personal adaptability and our willingness to shift our thought patterns to respond to given situations in less regimented ways. Developing a more flexible mindset allows us to evaluate and adjust to the different tasks, roles and responsibilities we are presented with each day with less stress. Feeling optimistic or happy creates more broad and inclusive thinking. On the contrary, fear narrows our focus. When we are able to make a mental shift without remaining stuck in a particular mindset, we’re practicing mental flexibility.” My takeaway from that definition is that if I allow the fear of things not going according to plan to overtake my willingness to try and to move forward, I’ll end up more focused on what I’m afraid of over what’s possible.
Practically, this means that I need to cultivate a habit of thinking about what I am thinking when faced with changes in plans, unexpected quarantines, timelines that have to shift.
- What am I telling myself about this situation?
- What are solutions that I can be creative about?
- What is a different way of looking at things?
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”Isaiah 43:19
- Consider a period of fasting and prayer. It’s a tried and true practice for the start of any new season, a time to mentally pause and reset, new year or not. Many faith communities take advantage of this time of year, when people are ready to recover from holiday eating and excesses, to start fresh on physical and mental practices. Even if your new year is off to a rocky start, taking the time to prayer for 5 minutes a day and making a commitment to fast from something, whether a food item, social media, or another form of distraction, can be something you can start today. You can find lots of great resources for beginning a time of fasting and prayer by going here and here. And you can read more about the physical and mental benfits of fasting and prayer by going to this article.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.Matthew 6:16-18
- Start with something small and consistent to build something big. I know, I know, it seems far more sparkly to throw some BHAGs up on the wall at the start of the year. A BHAG is a term coined by Jim Collins in his book Built to Last, and it stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. And sure, it’s inspiring to read about how companies and individuals who put some crazy things out there on their goal sheets can accomplish all kinds of magic. Far be it from me to question Jim Collins and his decades of research on productivity and accomplishment.
Coming off the last two years, when so many of us have had to grapple with unknowns and sideways schedules and entirely new ways of doing things, I’ve become more convinced than ever that there is great momentum in doing the little things. There are small things we can do every day that can make a big difference by the end of 2022. They are things that you can easily do, starting now, even if 2022 has already hit some speedbumps. What about:
Getting enough water every day
Eating one salad a day
Pray when you first wake up
Read a short Scripture every morning through the YouVersion Bible App
Take a short walk around the block every day at lunch
Start the dishwasher every night, even if it’s not completely full
Go to bed 15 minutes early
Don’t look at social media for one day a week
Simple. Easy. Just add one item of the above list to your daily practice. And when that becomes a habit, add another one. Choosing to get in a short walk every day might not get you to a BHAG of running a marathon…but it is instilling the habit of daily movement, the foundation of training for something like a marathon. Being intentional about reading a Scripture every morning might not seem as noble as a BHAG of reading through the entire Bible in a year. Still, it gets you into a powerful verse every day and into the mindset of making Bible reading part of your daily life. So, embrace the small. Add things gradually. Aim for consistency. And you’ll see significant change by the end of the year.
- Get a new date. Sure, January 1st is a fine day to start. But nothing says it has to be. You get to decide when to make your best effort at a fresh start. It could be an upcoming Thursday at 2 pm. It doesn’t have to be a Monday, and it doesn’t have to be a particular date on the calendar. What’s important is that it’s a time that you can commit to, one that you prepare yourself and are realistic about what changes you are pursuing in your life. Take the pressure off the early days of the new year. You haven’t ruined anything if the last few days you’ve been more in recovery mode from the holidays instead of a 2022 pursuit. Be kind to yourself, start small, pick a new date, fast from something that isn’t good for you, pray for God’s wisdom, innovation, and insight in your life.
There’s a meme that’s been making the rounds, and it goes a little something like this: instead of New Year, New Me, how about New Year, Same Me, but loving ourselves a little better, showing kindness and grace to ourselves so we can better show it to others. There’s a lot to be said for reimagining the phrase this way. And it sounds a whole lot like “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So here’s to 2022, whenever it begins for you. Here’s to a fresh page, whenever it works for you to turn to it. Here’s to doing small things consistently. Here’s to rolling with the punches, extending patience and mercy and grace, whatever the year brings. Here’s to curiosity, hope, and love.